Life expectancies are rising across the globe, but more people are now dying from obesity than from malnutrition.
The Global Burden of Disease study, published in the British medical journal The Lancet, indicates that obesity – the result of rising prosperity in many countries – is now killing thrice as many people as starvation every year.
Indeed, obesity is now the world’s sixth-leading cause of death, up from tenth in 1990.
On the plus side, between 1990 and 2010, the average global life expectancy at birth climbed by about five years. A baby boy born in 2010 will live 67.5 years, a baby girl will live to 73.3.
In nations as varied as Bangladesh, Bhutan, Iran, the Maldives and Peru, for example, average life expectancy soared by more than 20 years.
However, concurrently, obesity is prematurely ending the lives of 3 million annually (while deaths from malnutrition have been steadily falling for the past two decades). Aside from sub-Saharan Africa, where hunger remains a devastating killer, excessive eating has raised dire health consequences in the rest of the planet.
“We have gone from a world 20 years ago where people weren’t getting enough to eat to a world now where too much food and unhealthy food – even in developing countries – is making us sick,” said Dr. Majid Ezzati, chair of global environmental health at Imperial College in London, and one of the lead authors of the report, according to the Daily Telegraph.
In addition, while people are living longer, they are getting sicker, suffering from ailments in their twilight years thar are related to obesity, including Type II diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
“We’re finding that very few people are walking around with perfect health and that, as people age, they accumulate health conditions,” said another study co-author, Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
High blood pressure, smoking and drinking are also major killers.
"The good news is there are lots of things we can do to reduce disease risk," Ezzati added. "To bring down the burden of high blood pressure, we need to regulate the salt content of food, provide easier access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and strengthen primary health care services.”
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.